(One source, who asked to be identified as “Bill” for this story, was part of the Occupy Movement for only its last night in the streets of America. He’d been occupying the country alone, all over, on the move, on foot, an army of one, for half a decade or so by the time the movement erupted and was crushed in 2011. He would later become a forest firefighter. He shared just one night with Occupy at the end. He tells his Occupy story to Hard Times Review on a walk through the woods in early August.)
What was your life like before Occupy?
Transient and dangerous.
What were you doing?
I was wandering around the country, by freight train mostly. I was transient going from a minor to an adult, so I came of age on the road, jumped thousands of miles of railroad track, back and forth across the country at least half a dozen times, in either direction, North and South, East and West.
16 to early 20s, maybe 21.
What were you doing? While hopping trains, what were you doin?
While hopping trains, I was always trying to plan ahead to make sure I had the resources to continue traveling. I’d go to the library before any place in every town, so I could get on the internet and see what they had to offer, what was going on, if there were any job listings, how I could get out of town, where I could maybe go sleep. I didn’t have a smartphone or anything. They didn’t really have smartphones at that time.
How old’re you now?
How’d you first hear about Occupy?
I’d say I heard it through the Reed students I was living with in Southeast Portland. I was living at a communal house with about four other boys and three girls and my girlfriend at the time.
The first time I asked you how you became interested in Occupy, you recalled this incident with the police in the years before. Can you describe that incident a bit in detail?
I was involved with a youth outreach program, sort of a part time job that I was learning how to weld through. I left the studio for the day, biking across town to my house, and sat down in a park to smoke a cigarette. When I sat down, I noticed police officers pull up behind me, while eyeing me, and do a loop around the park, stopping at the opposite side to where I was seated, and they jumped out of the car with their guns out, screaming at me, flew towards me, so I stood up and complied because I hadn’t committed any crime. I just wanted them out of my hair and there was no excuse for me not to comply.
They commanded me to put my hands behind my back. They were going to cuff me. I continued to comply, but I asked them why they were stopping me. They didn’t respond at that point, but after they put the cuffs on, I asked again, and they replied that I had matched the description of somebody who had fled a park in the direction of town in which I was headed, 15 minutes earlier. So, now I’m cuffed. I know, vaguely, why they’ve stopped me. I tell them where I’m coming from and point out that I do not match the description of the subject they were seeking at all.
That really pissed them off, at that point, when I questioned their judgement. They picked me up by my cuffed hands behind my back, threw me on the ground and dove their knee into my neck, then they basically dragged me, by the cuffs, across the park to their car, throwing me into the back seat and putting me in jail for two nights.
You learn not to question the judgement of people who are prepared, trained, willing to shoot you, when you’re broke and you live on the road.
How did that relate to your later encounter with Occupy?
You have to question the police’s motive when there is so much investment into their actions. Who do they actually represent? What are the morals governing them? Who knows from what institution’s design or demand they are exuding force?
When and how did you first become interested in participating in Occupy?
I was pretty jaded after that experience. There were a series of other bad things that happened, but I was fairly jaded, and I wanted to see what was actually going on. You’d hear so much about it through social media. The college students I was living with, they were much more involved, and I just wanted to see things with my own eyes.
What was it like the first time you did that? Describe the day.
It seemed almost surreally calm, going down to the Occupy center. They’d already been pretty entrenched there for a few weeks, maybe months. I don’t actually know. I was only involved at the tailend of it.
Where were they?
Portland, Oregon, across from the courthouse, pretty sure it was the courthouse. There was a big park, a famous gathering point.
And what was it like that first time you participated? What did you do? What did you see?
I walked through the park, all the tents. They were still pamphleteering. There were anarchist zines, tables with anarchist zines. There was a medic. There were Food Not Bombs, things like that, things I’d already spent a lot of time around. That didn’t seem strange. By the time I got there, though, it seemed like it was a very suspicious atmosphere. I think they knew they were getting kicked out that night. I wasn’t involved with the inner workings of it or anything. I didn’t know anybody. I had just moved to Portland after that interaction with the police had kind of ruined my life for a year or two.
I enjoyed Occupy. It just seemed very, very tense, as I said. Yeah, it just seemed very tense, almost like it even seemed doomed at that point. There was fear. Whatever the movement started as, it seemed like its essence was extracted, if that doesn’t sound strange enough.
What was your fondest memory of Occupy?
How loud it got when the police showed up.
How do you mean?
Everybody started making noise. It was a very free spirited moment. Everybody knew what was going to happen, so people just elated.